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RV..ventilation is OK, door seal is OK, gas regulator..AC…

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Dometic RM211 (1977) RV propane...
Dometic RM211 (1977) RV propane fridge working fine up to ambient temperature of 25C/77F, then internal fridge temperature will rise from 4C/40F to 12C/54F while the freezer temperature will rise from -10C to -2C (14F to 28F). Level is perfect, ventilation is OK, door seal is OK, gas regulator just got changed for a new one (so flame is now triple the size it was first, and it varies fine with thermostat). AC, or propane operation produce similar results: poor performance with ambient temperature higher than 25C. After a week of operation, there is a thin layer of frost inside the freezer and a bit on some of the evaporator fins. Nothing that would suggest a defective door seal or excess frost buildup that could reduce evaporator performance significantly.

I went trough all troubleshooting and maintenance steps indicated in Dometic RM211 user's manual and several of their Service Manuals.

What cooling performance should I expect from such a small RV fridge ? Do I expect too much from such type of propane fridge ?
Should I remove the freezer door to get maximum cooling power to the fridge ?
I read in a service manual that reversing the fridge upside down may restore normal operation if ammonia coolant has overheated and crystallized at some point. This would be a lot of work. Is it worth attempting it ? The only replacement units available (RM2193 , or Norcold 323) would not have a freezer or any convenient door shelves and a price tag over 6-700$. I'm trying figure out if current (poor) operation is normal, if I can improve it and if a new unit would do much better.
Submitted: 11 years ago.Category: RV
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Answered in 13 minutes by:
7/28/2011
RV Mechanic: Randall, RVIA Certification replied 11 years ago
Randall
Randall, RVIA Certification
Category: RV
Satisfied Customers: 28,224
Experience: RVDA/RVIA Master Certified Technician with many years experience.
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Hi: Thank you for coming to Just Answer with your question. My name is XXXXX XXXXX perhaps I can assist you with this issue.

First find out if the air flow is being restricted in any way and what is the distance from the rear wall to the cooling unit? This should be less than 1/4" for best results. Some of these installs aren't the best and either the insulation is left out or not adequate. Some don't put any on top of the fridge. Sometimes debris or birds nests or wasps nests get in there and plug off the air flow. You have to take the roof vent off to see down in there. Once you are sure this isn't the problem you can hook up the heating element (after it is tested to be sure it is good) directly to an AC power source and see if the fridge just about freezes inside the fridge. That will tell you if the cooling unit is working or not. If it is then we can look further. That is a pretty old unit and most that old are long gone. R.J.
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Customer reply replied 11 years ago
By the way, all ventilation path is done on the side wall of the RV, because it is a rather small fridge. The whole ventilation path is accessible and was inspected/cleaned.I don't see my previous reply, so I will repeat it: Current unit appears to be the original one installed on that RV. I read that bigger propane fridges can cool down about 98F cooler than ambient temperature. Mine only does cool down 55F colder. Is that normal ? What performance should I expect from a brand new unit of the same size ?
RV Mechanic: Randall, RVIA Certification replied 11 years ago
When a fridge is working properly it can almost freeze. Yours is not working properly. It may be a bad thermostat. If the heating element is good you can hook it directly to a 120 VAC power source and the unit should freeze. If not, then the hydrogen may have bled out of it or it may have a blockage. It might be time to think about a newer model. Both Dometic and Norcold makes some good units that are much improved over the old ones.
I can get you some specs if you need them. In the meantime try the test on the cooling unit and let me know what happens. I will check back in the morning. R.J.
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Customer reply replied 11 years ago
From Dometic Service manual: The importance of adequate air flow across the cooling unit cannot be emphasized too much. A minor restriction in the venting system will not create a problem on cooler days - the available air flow will still provide adequate cooling due to the lower temperature. However, on a hot day (90” or more) even a minor restriction will cause overheating of the cooling unit and the cooling process will slow down or stop.
========================= COMMENTS =================
According with such warning, I understand that even a brand new unit will have hard time to cope with ambient temperature getting higher than 90F and that any airflow restriction may produce overheating and performance problem (as you pointed out first). Up to 75F ambient temperature, maximum setting produces a fridge temperature (under AC or Propane)down to 34F,and a freezer section down to about 14F. It is only when ambient temperature gets hotter (in the 80 or 90's that both fridge and freezer temperature rises to unnacceptable levels. I've already done my homework in terms of compatible models with the opening size I have: Dometic RM211 can be replaced by RM2193 or Norcord 323, both without freezer or door shelves (less convenient). I'm considering purchasing a new unit ONLY IF I CAN BE CERTAIN THAT IT WILL BE PERFORMING BETTER THAN MINE IN SUMMER HEAT. I always pick shaded camping sites and up here in Canada, outdoor temperature rarely gets any hotter than 90F in daytime and 75 at night. This is within normal operating range.
As a last resource, could I install a 4" 12V fan to force airflow when temperature gets any hotter than 90F ? This is a suggestion I picked into one of the Dometic Service manual, but they don't say what portion of the back I should be directing the fan (absorber or condenser) to prevent overheating condition. You can tell I'm a former computer specialist Wink I don't want to drive you nuts, I only want to make sure I've done all I can to make it work or replace it with something that works better than the old one.
RV Mechanic: Randall, RVIA Certification replied 11 years ago
That is true on the ambient temps..............and also true on the venting. Look on yours and be sure that there is not more than 1/4" between the back wall and the cooling unit. If the air ISN'T going up inside the coils then it won't cool as well. The outside insulation is critical as well. The newer style foam insulation with a foil facing can do a much better job. If the fridge is insulated better it doesn't have to work as hard staying cold. And a small fan which can be purchased as an accessory will help when directing more air up through the coils. Most are mounted below the boiler. An old computer fan can so this. Easy to wire in and I am sure you can do this. And if you do the test on the cooling unit early in the morning by hooking up the heating element directly to an AC source...........and it has to be a 120 VAC source unless they changed this out or came with a 240 VAC heating element. Don't you use 240 VAC up there or is that only in Australia? That would show you if the cooling unit is fine and the problem may be in the thermostat OR just not being installed well. Then you can decide what to do. Hope that helps. R.J.
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Customer reply replied 11 years ago
Again, I get the same poor performance with AC or propane operation. Propane is faster. Today, as I came back from work, outside temperature was 89F, Inside the fridge, it was up to 70 and freezer had a hard time to remain at 30F. Both condensers and and absorber pipes were hot. It tells me ventilation is not sufficient, so I installed a 5 watts high performance thermostatic fan to boost air circulation, as a palliative measure, hoping to prevent cooling system from overheating.

By the way, in Canada, we use the exact same 110V AC and standards as in the US for most common appliances, except for ranges, water tanks, heating and similar appliances.

There is no doubt that the cooling unit works, but it probably can't cope with the aged insulation and degraded door seals. You have a good point about the newer insulation foam and foil material that is far more efficient than in the 70's. I think this is what I'm facing. That tells me I will need to get a replacement unit if I want to use the fridge in hot summer days. I will let you know of the results of adding a 12 volt fan upwards under the absorber pipes.
RV Mechanic: Randall, RVIA Certification replied 11 years ago
So you hooked up the heating element directly to the power source and got the same performance? If so, then it is time for a new fridge. That one has lost some of the hydrogen or has a partial blockage. Not worth rebuilding. R.J.
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RV Mechanic: Randall, RVIA Certification replied 11 years ago
If you need more on this let me know.........R.J.
Randall
Randall, RVIA Certification
Category: RV
Satisfied Customers: 28,224
Experience: RVDA/RVIA Master Certified Technician with many years experience.
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Customer reply replied 11 years ago
Hi Randall,
I've done a week-end of testing: with the added fan, the fridge is able to work without problem up to 90F. After all, it seems that you were right on at your first comment (must improve ventilation). The original installation and vent do not seem to be sufficient anymore, as the overall condition decreases over time. This is a temporary palliative measure. It will make it last until next spring, when a replacement will likely be cheaper anyway (US$ going down).

Thanks for helping me confirm the diagnosis.

Martin
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